Legal writing

OSCOLA back to basics: case law

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When writing your law assignment using the OSCOLA citation style, you’ll no doubt need to support your argument with some legal cases. This blog posts takes a look at the most frequently used case citation layouts for the law of England and Wales. If you need to cite a pre-1865 case or a decision from one of the other UK jurisdictions, such as Scotland or Northern Ireland, there is further detail in the fourth edition OSCOLA guidelines which you can download free.

Neutral citations in case law

Since 2002, the courts, tribunals and commissions of England and Wales have issued judgments with a neutral citation, which identifies the year of the judgment, the court and the judgment number. This is in addition to any report of the case that may appear in any one of the published law reports: Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports, All England Law Reports, Lloyd’s Law Reports, Family Law Reports, and so on. It’s possible for a case to have a neutral citation but not to have been reported. First, depending on the date of the case, check whether it has a neutral citation, then note if it has been reported, using the Law Reports as first choice of reference material.

Three basic formats

1. Citation of a case with a neutral citation – start with the neutral citation then the law report, separated by a comma

Case name in italic | [year square brackets] | court | number | comma, | ([year]) | volume | report abbreviation | first page number | full stop if in footnote

2. Citation of a case without a neutral citation (pre-2002) – here just cite the law report information plus the court

Case name in italic | [year square brackets or round brackets] | volume | report abbreviation | first page number | (court in round brackets) | full stop if in footnote

3. Post-2002 citation of unreported case – just cite the neutral citation

4. Pre-2002 unreported cases – give court and date, no need to add ‘unreported)

Case name in italic | (court name, date of judgment) | full stop if a footnote

Round or square brackets?

Use square brackets if the year is used to identify the volume. If there was more than one volume that year then add the volume number too. Otherwise, use round brackets if the reports are a series of numbered volumes.

Quick summary

• Case name are always in italic
• The ‘v’ for versus is lower case and does not have a full stop
• Only give the last names of the first plaintiff and defendant – no initials, no forenames and no punctuation
• Use short abbreviations where possible with no punctuation; abbreviate long introductory phrases to Re
• Pre-2002 law report only; post-2002 neutral citation plus law report

And finally, what’s the difference between footnotes and bibliography or table of cases? The layout is identical, just remember only the footnotes have a full stop, the others don’t.

Legal writing
Legal writing